From Concept to Reality in One Semester

NMU seniors Lewis Sibley and Paul Gorbold (pictured) developed a solar-powered greenhouse ventilation unit as a senior project in their mechanical engineering technology class.

It was one of several proposals submitted by local businesses in need of engineering assistance to Jeff Hoffman (Engineering Technology). Hoffman assigns the projects to his students at the start of each semester. They spend the rest of the time designing and developing feasible solutions. Other projects completed this semester included a garden watering system and a floor layout.

“What we’re trying to do is to simulate situations they will face as engineers when they graduate,” Hoffman said.


The students are given objectives and a small budget to complete the assignment. Seniors Mike Hoy and Nate Tobias designed the watering system, which uses a moisture sensor to determine when greenhouse flowers need to be watered. Their system automatically begins watering when the sensor determines the soil is too dry. Greenhouse owner Kim Smith-Potts was in need of a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly system to reduce manual labor.


“The value for us lies in drawing on the engineering expertise, helping us develop efficiency that is cost effective and environmentally friendly,” Smith-Potts said.


Seniors Lewis Sibley and Paul Gorbold (pictured above) also completed a project for Smith-Pott’s greenhouse. They invented a solar-powered ventilation system that turns on fans if the temperature in the greenhouse gets too hot. “It’s been more like a real-world application – different than homework,” Sibley said.


Hoffman said that while the students’ creations help out small business owners, the projects in turn help students learn project management and presentation skills. The fact they're working for a real business is a motivating factor.


“Overall, the students really work hard,” Hoffman said. “They get pretty creative.”


Other senior projects included a new floor layout for a company’s new manufacturing facility at KI Sawyer, designed by Joshua Wasilewski and Mike Johnson.

“We came up with a floor plan that will help the company provide barrier-free assembly production with an emphasis on the continuous flow of material,” Wasilewski said. He added that although the class is labor intensive for two credits, it provided him with a real-life experience that will be beneficial to his future career.


For small business owners such as Smith-Potts, the work of the students is invaluable.

“I appreciate the simplicity of the designs and know that there was actually a lot of thought that went into this,” she said.



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Updated: December 17, 2004